A tiny sailboat built by a high school senior from Waterford, CT successfully traveled thousands of miles from the coast of Cape Cod across the Atlantic to Ireland in the summer of 2016.
Waterford High School student Kaitlyn Dow built the boat last spring as a project for her marine science class filled with memorabilia from her school and the state of Connecticut. Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution released the sailboat into the waters above the North American continental shelf in May, The Day reports.
Four months later, it washed up in Ireland. It was discovered by 8-year-old Méabh Ní Ghionnáin, a resident of Droim, Leitir Móir, Connemara, Co. Galway.
The boat was still intact and had only a few scratches on the school logo of the Waterford Lancers painted on its side and about an inch of water in its hull. It had landed on a beach close to Méabh's house.
“In the middle of the day we went walking by the sea, and then we saw this white thing,” said Méabh. “We went down to it and it was the boat.”
All summer long, Dow and her science teacher, Michael O’Connor, had tracked the boat's GPS coordinates. As they watched the boat approach the west coast of Ireland, they started trying to contact anyone and everyone they could think of who might pick it up.
“I thought about this thing going into the wild Irish west coast where there are 100-foot cliffs, and it was going to get smashed,” said O’Connor.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen as the boat, pushed along by wind and tide, ended up nestled in some seaweed on a beach.
Frantically trying to reach out to as many people as possible who might help find the boat, Dow contacted pubs up and down the coast. One of these pubs, in Droim, was owned by Méabh’s aunt.
The aunt told her sister, Neasa Ní Chualáin, Méabh's mother, and the entire family began scanning the coast near their home looking for the boat, and checking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration GPS map showing the sailboat’s progress.
The beginnings of an unmanned sail drifter pic.twitter.com/TvO9IXiwhm— WHS Drifter Project (@DrifterWhs) March 16, 2016
The map indicated that the boat, named Lancer, was sitting on a small island off the coast of Droim, but the family saw nothing when they looked out at the island with binoculars.
Ní Chualáin's husband, Stiofán Ó Gionnáin, a fisherman, said: “When we got up … on Saturday morning, we couldn’t believe it. The Lancer on the GPS was showing that it was just literally underneath our house.”
Méabh and her father walked out to the water and found the boat. Inside was a a UConn Husky stuffed animal, a flash drive with essays by a class at a local elementary school, Quaker Hill Elementary, and several other objects Dow had sealed inside the boat's hull. There was also about an inch of water.
Oh no was everything inside wet? pic.twitter.com/KB3ZTxjcdM— WHS Drifter Project (@DrifterWhs) September 17, 2016
Ní Chualáin sent a message to the Lancer’s Twitter account, where Dow had been posting updates on the boat’s path throughout its voyage.
Méabh took the boat to school and was interviewed by a national Irish-language radio station.
“There was a lot of excitement,” Ní Chualáin said.
When O’Connor saw the Ní Chualáin’s photos on Twitter, “I just looked at it and said that’s it, that’s perfect.”
Dow, now a high school senior, said she plans to write about the experience in her college application essays.
For now, the boat remains with Méabh and her family. Local newspaper The New London Day reports that her class might fix the boat and try to send it out to sea again. It could also go to Belfast for the European Marine Educators Conference this month or to County Waterford in Ireland.
At the same time that the WHOI researchers launched the Lancer, they also launched a drifter, an aluminum pole attached to a lobster buoy, designed and built by a class of fourth-graders from Quaker Hill Elementary School. At the moment, it is still floating somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.